Food prices are constantly on the rise, so I thought it’s time to talk about how to cut the food budget. Many people choose fast food because they may seem cheaper, but they are generally higher in unhealthy fat and devoid of nutrients (vitamins and minerals), leaving your body hungry for more food and not functioning at its best.
Healthy eating does not need to be expensive.
The most important point to remember is to keep eating healthy when you have limited money for your meals. It is essential to focus on eating a variety of foods on a daily basis to ensure that you get all the nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals) that your body requires. The key is to get value for money and make your food money go further. Here are a couple of tips.
Make a shopping list before you go for your weekly shop and stick to it. A good practice is to plan your meals for the week in advance so that you know exactly what you will need. Try not to buy impulsively, as this is when more money is spent. Another golden rule is never to go shopping on an empty stomach – we all know that we buy more treats when this happens. You should also try to take advantage of special offers, but be aware of what the regular prices are to ensure that the special will in fact save you money. Compare prices and don’t just assume that one shop will always be cheaper. No-name brands tend to be cheaper, but look at the others as there may be specials going.
Don’t cut down on your vegetable and fruit intake. They are extremely important foods that our health is reliant on. The important point with vegetables and fruit is that you choose those that are in season, as this is when they are cheapest. Buying them in bulk can also reduce the price greatly. A good idea is to share with family and friends so that they don’t go bad before they can be used. Also remember to store them correctly to prevent spoilage. Vegetables are normally cheaper than fruit, so get into the habit of eating more vegetables during the day, for example carrots, celery, cucumber and tomatoes. Choosing your own vegetables and fruit and buying them per kilogram is mostly cheaper than buying them pre-packaged. Remember that if you need to peel vegetables, peel using a vegetable peeler so as to prevent unnecessary wastage. And instead of throwing away vegetable leaves, skins, tops etc. use them in soups and stews for extra nutrition. It is also a fantastic idea, if you have the resources, to start growing your own vegetables.
If you love your red meat, you may need to learn to enjoy it less often as this is the most expensive of the protein options. There are far less expensive (and also healthier) options available such as chicken, fish, eggs, soya and legumes. In terms of red meat, mince is still good value for money. Make it go further by adding beans or lentils as well as vegetables such as onions or carrots. If you cannot go without red meat, using slow-cooking methods can make cheaper cuts of meat more juicy and tender. Eggs are the cheapest form of animal protein and can provide versatile meals, such as omelettes. Frozen chicken is cheaper than fresh chicken. Also remember that buying in bulk is usually cheaper. You can cook in bulk and freeze for later use. Frozen fish is generally cheaper than fresh fish, and using tinned fish such as pilchards makes a meal very affordable e.g. fishcakes are a fantastic meal to make from pilchards. Try to have some meatless days in the week. Legumes such as beans or lentils are not expensive, very nutritious and easy to prepare. Even something as simple as baked beans with some rice or on a slice of toast is a perfect way to introduce protein into your diet.
The main point with carbohydrates is to buy unrefined. Refining not only strips a product of its goodness, but also makes it more expensive. Samp, rice and corn are generally cheaper than pasta, but a pasta meal can be a cheap meal when compared to a meat, starch, vegetable meal. Porridges are also generally cheaper than instant cereals. And we all know that treats such as biscuits, rusks, cakes, sweets and crisps add no value to your health, but add quite an expense to the budget.
Dairy is a great food as it provides you with protein and energy. Milk packaged in sachets rather than bottles or cartons are generally cheaper. Milk powder is also a good, economic option. For yoghurts, buy the litre tubs and decant yourself into smaller amounts. Cheese is very expensive. If you want a cheese flavour, use mustard and cayenne pepper in your meals together with a small amount of strongly flavoured cheese.
Healthy plant fats such as nuts, avocado, olives etc. can be very expensive. Peanuts are a cheaper option to tree nuts, and peanut butter is a great fat to use on bread or with your fruit. Seeds are also far more economical and are delicious added to your porridge, salads or vegetables. Limit your use of butter, margarine and oil by cooking mostly with water or use a very small amount of oil (1-2 teaspoons is generally enough). Rather use the oil in its raw form in salads or with your bread.
Healthy eating does not need to be expensive. And once you learn to practice portion control, cook just enough or learn to use left-overs in other dishes, as well as pack your own lunch for work, your food money will take you so much further that you ever could imagine.